Bombay Begums Review: It's raining women, amen
Barely teens — who are unapologetically woke — are shown doing stuff that would make adults brought up on a diet of "wholesome entertainment" blush and rush for cover.
In India, Bombay Begums has already stoked a controversy. Last month, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a government-appointed statutory body, served notice to Netflix for ‘objectionable’ scenes featuring minors. Barely teens — who are unapologetically woke — are shown doing stuff that would make adults brought up on a diet of “wholesome entertainment” blush and rush for cover.
But then, no surprises there. Streaming apps have set in place a paradigm shift in “popular culture” that had hitherto existed in a conservative (and predictable) straitjacket. What makes it more in-your-face is the fact that web series are protracted and accessible — unlike flash-in-the-pans movies that quietly played in remote theatres that only allowed entry of viewers who were past a “certain age”.
The series is narrated by the rebellious Shai (in a terribly clichéd line, she is introduced as being “shy”), 13 going on 14, who has still not come to terms with her mother’s death, (therefore) hates her stepmother, and wants to believe in a hippie-like concept of free love but gets possessive over a boy in her class who she fancies. She obsesses over menstruation — why she’s still not getting her periods — and pads up her bras for a “better-rounded” look.
Precocious teens are, however, not really the moot point of Bombay Begums; they’re just woven in smartly into the script, and the narration lays down a tone of flattened perspective: no concessions are made on the basis of age, gender, faith, class, sexual orientation. CEOs and sex workers bond over commonality, spouses segregate over detachment. It’s all there.
The female protagonists navigate life, work politics, social climbing, peccadilloes, mortal sins, grey areas, sexual harassment, salty language and menopause alongside a whole bunch of high-octane frivolities. For a change, the males remain way more black-and-white, button-holed in “boys will be boys” grooves. The setting is Mumbai, or Bombay, where dreams (allegedly) don’t die, rising higher than its skyline: the city is used to telling effect with panoramic montages of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link acting as a bridge ferrying angst and aspirations.
The best bits? An incredible motor force of moral ambiguity, struggling to stay within the confines of a compass.
The worst bits? The beginning and the end, kind of trite. What lies in between is quite the revelation, a promise of better things to come from the Made in India mettle.
wknd. scorecard: 7/10